IPL 2017: How Sourav Ganguly's brainchild helped KKR find a new mystery bowler in Sayan Ghosh
Often called Chakdaha's Malinga, the 24-year-old's unpredictable slinging action took 14 wickets at the 2017 Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy.
On March 15, 2014, the Cricket Association of Bengal (CAB) officially launched the Vision 2020 programme with the goal of creating a consistent supply channel of cricketers from West Bengal to the national squad, across all age categories. The idea was championed by India's former cricket captain and current CAB President Sourav Ganguly, who successfully roped in seasoned professionals such as Waqar Younis, Muttiah Muralitharan and VVS Laxman as consultants and selectors.
Then Chairman of the Coaching Committee, Ganguly's youthful idea was immediately accepted by other CAB members. During the launch, he explained, “Our goal is to make Bengal like a Mumbai or a Maharashtra and create a centre of solid excellence. This will be the bed rock for greater things in Bengal. I'm not saying the results will be immediate, but by 2017/18, we should have several players from the initial setup in the IPL and other domestic limited overs tournaments.”
For the first time in nearly two decades, a sponsor came forward to support a Bengal cricket venture. Ganguly's patient wait for his first ever home-grown product lasted for three years, but the recently concluded IPL auction has given this first of a kind grassroots programme its first, and extremely unlikely success story.
The name 'Sayan Ghosh' flashed on the uncapped domestic bowlers’ list with a price tag of Rs 10 lakhs. A 21-year-old closed his eyes and looked down at his bedroom floor, for close to a year he nursed a broken foot and feared his chances to play professional cricket was over. A silence came over the room, as auctioneer Richard Madley shunned the hammer side-ways, “UNSOLD,” he shouted.
Speaking exclusively to Sportskeeda, he said, “I thought that was it, for the past one year I've been facing a broken foot injury, been in and out. However, over the past three months, I played through the pain, attempting to get a Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy call-up. I didn't expect to get in, but yes you know final hope.”
With all his hopes dashed, the boy from the tiny town of Chakdaha in the Eastern region of West Bengal began planning for yet another gruelling club season. Another attempt to reach the creme de la creme of the sport in the state. He added. “I left to play cricket, my parents kept watching. I came back and my parents were still watching, they said franchises have asked for a re-run of names. Out of nowhere, I heard my name, I didn't know how to react!”
Better known as 'the slinger' in the Bengal camp, Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) CEO Venky Mysore immediately lifted the baton and secured Sayan's signature at base price. A nominal buy for the multiple IPL winning franchise, which saw Captain Gautam Gambhir spot an uncanny smile. He said, “Yes, he's difficult to pick up, and we had seen him and his unique action during the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy.”
Yet another mystery bowler for Indian fans to deal with! However, coming back to the original question, 'How does this have anything to do with the Vision 2020 plan?' I mean there have been several rags to riches stories, in fact, some even stronger like the son of an auto driver, Mohammed Siraj, bagging a cool Rs 2.6 crores.
First spotted by Waqar Younis
Sayan was the first ever selection by Waqar Younis, during his visit to Eden Gardens as the Vision 2020's Bowling Consultant. A seed which was sown three years ago, has finally managed to bear its first fruit for Bengal cricket.
Sayan said, “I was a local club cricketer in 2014, I used to play second division for a local club here in Chakdaha. I was around 19, and made a come back to cricket as my parents had me quit for my class 10 and 12 boards. I went to the Vision 2020 trials, and in the first week itself Lakhi da (Lakshmi Ratan Shukla) came and told me that you have been selected.
“I remember talking to Waqar Sir several times, he really liked my action and tried to teach me balance and technique. That year itself I got my first chance to represent Bengal at the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy, thanks to the Vision 2020 programme. If it wasn't for that entire tournament or whatever I can call it, I don't think I would ever get a platform to show how unique his talent is. When I wasn't getting anything in professional cricket, my parents forced me to become an engineer. This will help a long way in legitimising what I do.”
The recently concluded Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy saw the 24-year old secure 14 wickets in eight matches, highlighting his meteoric rise from the bottom to the top of the Bengal cricketing hierarchy. Even senior team coach Sairaj Bahutule seemed amused, during a press conference, he said, “Reminds you of Lasith Malinga, doesn't he? From fellow players, I've heard he's (Sayan) is a huge fan too.”
However, this transition from being a young prodigy in Sourav Ganguly's new reign as Bengal President to securing an IPL spot with arguably one of the strongest squads has not come easy. A local club coach Naren said, “I've known Sayan since he was a young kid, his ability to disguise the ball is like no other. His strong points are his slower delivery and variations. Of course, the action is evident, actually when we first saw Malinga, all of us thought he bowled like Sayan.”
With no Ranji Trophy appearances, comparisons with international stalwarts like Malinga is a bit pre-mature. However, KKR has often been known to dabble with the 'Mystery bowler' concept. Be it an established pro such as Ajantha Mendis or an unknown stalwart such as tennis ball sensation K C Cariappa, the intention to surprise the opposition is evident.
Sayan added, “ I've played for Bengal U-19 and U-23 mostly. In my first season, I became the top wicket taker. But, there was always a conflict with me and my family. They wanted me to take a secure job and not get into cricket. Hence, even in the prime of my youth, I gave up, but over time I realised this is what I love doing.
“Last year, I broke my foot, while playing for Bengal. I was bed-ridden for three months. At that time, I realised I had to give in to my parents wants. Now, I'm relieved, IPL was my goal during rehab and now I've been given the chance.”
Cleaned trains for Railways, but quit because I wanted to pursue cricket: Sayan
Playing for first division outfit Kalighat, Sayan's prolific performances including four five-wicket hauls earned him a Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy spot. In the match against North Zone, the Chakdaha slinger was a menace, dismissing his own captain-to-be Gautam Gambhir and Manan Sharma. His economy of 6.83 and 14 wickets saw East Zone go unbeaten through the tournament.
He said, “I knew with the tournament so close to the IPL, this would be a testing ground. It didn't matter whether I was injured or not, with so many scouts there I had to perform. It was a fabulous tournament, I used all the tricks up my sleeves nad got some good dismissals. I only hope to continue this form.”
Exactly a year ago, Sayan was given a post as a Group D cricketer at the Kharagpur Railway station, two levels lower than what Mahendra Singh Dhoni was during the former captain's time there. He said, “My parents were very happy, but it was a tough time for me. They expected me to clean compartments, my parents were just happy that I had a secure income. But that's now what I wanted to do in life. I wanted to be a cricketer, and now I think they are at peace. For me, the journey has just begun.”
Even 'Dada' had a private word with him last year, as he told Sayan, “You have all the ingredients to become a world class T-20 bowler. Just keep working hard and don't give up. Rest, just trust the process. You will be there one day.”
A senior CAB official said, “Yes, it is a major success for us. Many people will say that because he's Bengali and from Bengal we selected him. That is not the case, he has been selected by the coaches and the captain based on his performances, which is a massive victory for the programme. The next goal is to increase the number of such candidates. For Sayan, he was immediately put in the Bengal setup, hence the others will also follow.”
And as we all know, Dada does, what Dada says. Be it on the field smashing sixes or off it, giving back to cricket, Sourav Ganguly's first most ambitious plan 'Vision 2020' seems to have initiated the product generation phase. For Sayan, he can finally brush shoulders with his role model, Lasith Malinga.